Solons push 4-point agenda to revive public transport, boost NCR economy

House leaders Tuesday pushed for the revival of public transportation in Metro Manila as they revealed that 1.7 million workers are stranded every day in the National Capital Region (NCR).

In a joint statement, House Committee on Economic Affairs Chairman Sharon Garin, House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Joey Salceda, House economic cluster co-chairman and Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo, and House Committee on Transportation Chairman Edgar Mary Sarmiento said lack of public transportations delay the country’s economic recovery.

Salceda said without sufficient public transport to move workers, who comprise the backbone of the economy, the actual operational economy falls to 36 percent.

“Higher supply than demand for public transportation is best way to ensure social distancing,” the Bicol lawmaker added.

According to the National Economic and Development Authority, an economy that is 75 percent open based on the number of workers allowed to go to work, is actually just 59 percent open if public transportation remains limited.

According to Sarmiento, out of the 50,000 jeepneys in Metro Manila, only 17,000 are operating. On the other hand, only 3,900 buses out of the 4,600 city buses are plying their routes. Other operators are not encouraged to run their fleet as the limited PUV capacity makes their operations non-sustainable. Meanwhile, 13,000 provincial buses are not yet allowed to operate by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) until now.

Quimbo also said that the main concern at this juncture is the lack of public transportation, particularly for workers, due to ongoing capacity restrictions.

“With a lack of public transportation, workers will effectively be unable to earn their pay, and businesses will face difficulty returning to full capacity, despite the lifting of lockdown restrictions in their own sector,” she added.

According to Quimbo, what the economy needs is “sufficient supply of transport that conforms to minimum health standards in order to minimize the risk of spreading the virus and exacerbating its impact.”

Based on available data, Quimbo explained that the lack of public transportation may be about over 1.7 million stranded workers each day, or 54 percent of the 3.151 million workers who rely on public transportation in Metro Manila.

Recommendation

Garin, for her part, said four recommendations have been formulated to increase supply of public transportation, especially for jeepneys and buses in Metro Manila.

“Public transportation has been identified as the primary and most important factor in jump-starting the country’s economy,” she stressed.

The lawmakers recommended to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to increase the allowed number of routes and number of public-utility vehicles.

They said there is a need to increase public transportation by providing incentives “should additional roadworthy jeepneys and buses be allowed to operate, the passenger capacity would increase by more than 2 million easily, even if one considers physical distancing and limited each PUV [public-utility vehicle] to four trips per day.”

The lawmakers are proposing the full and immediate implementation of service contracting, in which DOTr pays the operators and drivers based on the kilometers they were able to run, in which they leave the station on schedule, whether in full passenger capacity or not.

Under the Bayanihan 2 Act, P5.58 billion is allocated for service contracting, which should provide stranded workers a P45 per day fund support for three  months, equivalent to a 33 percent subsidy on daily transportation expenses for workers.

The lawmakers also said proposed to broaden work-from-home regime for government workers.

Salceda said there are roughly 400,000 government employees in NCR.

“If you can reduce those who need to go to work and use our transport resources to just 10 percent, or 40,000, you effectively free up another 360,000 seats every day for the rest of the private sector. That’s another 6 percent to 7 percent of the work force allowed to go to work under GCQ [general community quarantine],” he explained.

The lawmakers also proposed to increase passenger capacity per PUV.

Moreover, Garin said similarly cited promising findings in Japan and France, which was made possible through observance of the mask mandate, good ventilation and sanitation, and limiting close-range conversations.

She said DOTr is set to implement the new guidelines which will set social distancing in public transport from 1 meter to 0.5 meters, increasing passenger capacity by 50 percent.

For his part, 1-Pacman Rep. Eric Pineda, chairman of House labor committee, said that 70 percent of those working in public transportation have not had any source of livelihood for six months.

“The situation is so dire that jeepney drivers have resorted to begging on the streets as a way to feed their families. In fact, it’s not only the drivers who have lost their source of livelihood—but also the 41 percent of the workers in Metro Manila who have been allowed to go back to work but cannot because of lack of public transportation,” he added.

The lawmakers believe that increasing the supply of public transportation through the combination of the four recommendations is necessary to ensure that the 3.151 million workers in Metro Manila get to their workplaces and go back to their families with less risk of getting infected with Covid-19 while riding public transportation.

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